Theoretical Framework


Project Management


Theoretical Framework

As the European Union takes on new members and its external boundaries gradually shift, socio-economic and political transformations are taking place “at the border”. These transformations signify new development opportunities but often also problems and tensions. From the literature available on the border regime with respect to enlargement, two over-arching and interrelated “meta-themes” have been crafted which form the basis of the theoretical framework substructuring EXLINEA. These themes will condition the future dynamic of Europe’s external border for years to come, and serve as a basal reality from which to derive theoretical propositions across the range of issues and case-studies scrutinised by the EXLINEA project partners.

What/Where is the European Union? The borders of the European Union

The first meta-theme is directed at analysing at the supra-national level the practices, policies and perceptions of the geopolitical (re-)bordering the European Union as a whole. Which are our past, contemporary and future spatial routines and practices of bordering and ordering at the new borders of the enlarged European Union? Focusing on this theme, the following two issues have been distilled from current academic and political debates. The question arises, firstly, to which extent the current practice of re-bordering the European Union is in fact an outcome of modernisation assumptions, in which the European Union is seen as a state that attempts to reconstruct the nation of Europe. This reconstruction is fed by a combination of cartographic visionary, myths and gut-feelings of what Europe is. We wonder to what extent alternative bordering regime models can be thought of which avoid the simplistic and exclusionary state-like bordering of the enlarged European Union. Secondly, as established at the 1993 European Council of Copenhagen, accession criteria are based on principles of “own merits”, “differentiation” and “catching up”. With the recent agreement in Copenhagen, ten countries have agreed to join the European Union in 2004. Discussions about the EU’s exact eastern borders are however far from finished. This is the problem of “sequencing”: enlargement is likely to proceed in stages and nobody knows exactly which countries will actually get in and in what order. Agreement seems to be lacking with regard to the factors that should, or should not, determine whether a state complies with a certain degree of “Europeanness” to be granted access to the Union.

Openness and closure: assessing transboundary flows and relations at the various new borders of the European Union

The second meta-theme zooms in on the local consequences of re- and de-bordering policies, practices and perceptions for nurturing transnational and transboundary bordering and opportunity structures across Europe’s future external border. Both the practices and consequences of specific border regimes have important feedback effects on the nature and direction of the European Union project as a whole. The two following sub-themes are from current academic and political debates that address this second meta-theme. In the first place, as the EU’s boundaries shift geographically, it will be necessary to investigate the extent to which meaningful forms of conflict prevention, problem-solving and other forms of collective action are emerging in Central and Eastern European border regions. In what ways can cross-border regionalisation in these countries contribute to European multilevel governance? Secondly, the issue of the mobility of “uncontrollable” people, such as refugees and cheap and illegal workers, so significant for our present era, currently causes a great deal of intense, sometimes phobic, and normative political discussion. As such, this has been an issue in the enlargement discussions as well. Low-rated foreign labour is often labelled as “redundant” and economically and socially unwanted. As a consequence, there is still a substantially incomplete freedom of movement of people, inside as well as in-and out of the European Union, making the idea of a supposedly free factor mobility in and from the European Union the utopian wish of some rather than a practice or goal for the many. This is a hot issue in current academic debates on enlargement. Yet, this issue is still seldom examined and critically analysed on a larger European scale through the lens of border regimes.

An analytical framework of re-and de-bordering governance in the European Union

The research carried out by the various EXLINEA project partners aims to balance attention to the manner in which cross-border co-operation mechanisms are developing with a keen awareness of the contextual heterogeneity of the border regions themselves. The theoretical framework, focusing on policies, practices and perceptions and their interrelationships will, when made operational in the comparative research, provide a consistent basis through which to come to terms with the empirical diversity of the case studies. Furthermore, with regard to the case study regions, policies, practices and perceptions will be scrutinised from three different spatial levels: the European, the national and the subnational (local and regional). This will allow, at the level of regional case studies, a description and explanation of the emergence of specific border regimes. In short, this research encompasses not only the assessment of the constraints and potentials of border regimes at former lines of exclusion at the “outer edges” of the European Union, but also the analysis of the role and the interests and intentions of the relevant actors in developing cross-border co-operation practices.